The No True Scotsman Fallacy of Contemporary Democracy

Person A: No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.

Person B: But my uncle Angus likes sugar with his porridge.

Person A: Ah yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.

Following the example proposed by philosopher Bradley Dowden, does that mean that uncle Angus is not a Scotsman? But that’s just not true. The fallacy exposes itself in a simple form like this; however, candidates seeking the opportunity to be elected officials are smart to blur it in a kaleidoscope of reasons for you to fall into this trap.

The use of this fallacy to gain momentum is especially evident in the American election process, which every major election can take up to 18 months of constant campaigning. The length of these campaigns is unprecedented in any other democratic nations, where voting campaigns rarely exceeds 5 months. The 2016 presidential election is on November 8, 2016, but Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy is April 2015, and Donald Trump in June. Since then, at least a few news networks are reporting on the presidential primaries at any time of day.

Saving the argument on the ludicrous length of the American presidential election for another time, the lengthy campaigns give plenty of room for candidates to build up their cases and gain attraction. Attacks on fellow candidates are all over the States, and they range from policies to personality. In recent years; however, presidential hopefuls have developed a new strategy. The most common employment of this strategy is the “birther” approach, in which a candidate denounces another candidate because he/she is “not a true American”.

The idea originated as early as 2008, when many people claimed Barack Obama is un-American because of his Kenyan lineage, childhood experiences, and alleged religious affiliation. “Sure, he has an American passport, but he’s not a true American!” Cries many of Obama’s conservative adversaries. The attack escalated when, under the great leadership of Donald J. Trump, part of the public demanded Obama to release his birth certificate. Even when Obama finally releases his birth certificate (which, by the way, has never been done by any other presidents in U.S. history), many still called it a fake. A CBS/NYT poll in 2011 showed that nearly 50 percent of Republican and Tea Party supporters believe Obama is not born in the U.S., and about a quarter of Americans in general. Only 57 percent of Americans identify Obama is U.S.-born, and the rest 18 percent said they were unsure of Obama’s birthplace.

Obama’s birth certificate and relevant newspaper announcements in 1961.

Many identified the birther attack as a result of racism in The States. There is no doubt that there is definite a race factor involved in Obama’s political career, but the root of the issue lies in the original un-American claim that initiated during the 2007–2008 primaries.

The un-American claim is still seen in today’s 2016 American primaries. Donald Trump pointed his fingers at Ted Cruz’s Canadian birth as claim that he is also not a “natural-born citizen”, and Bernie Sanders is also accused of being un-American because he is a democratic socialist. (Note how news reports often ignore the word democratic, and simply refer to him as a socialist like the Soviets, America’s arch-enemy during the Cold War, instead of actual democratic-socialist governments of Scandinavian nations). The convenient attack rallies people against one candidate, creating months of campaigning on attacking one’s character instead of differentiating between policies.

This fallacy is not only employed in accusing candidates of not being patriotic, of not even being a natural-born citizen. Recently, when asked why an overwhelming percentage of young women supports Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem claimed that they are in it for the “boys”, hence implying that most young women are not independent thinkers. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also said that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other” during a Clinton rally several weeks ago. Both 60s feminist icons later apologized for their statements, but the impact of their statements were partially reflected in Sanders’ primary loss in Nevada and South Carolina, particularly with women of 35 or older. By implying that no true feminists support Bernie Sanders, they effectively persuade some less-educated feminists to change their support from Bernie to Hillary. Yet when you look at the two politician’s policies, Sanders is definitely a stronger supporter for female equality for women in terms of pay and representation for the past 50 years of their respective political careers.

The use of such fallacy is not only present in The U.S., but exists from national elections in The States to a mayoral election in Taipei. The premise of a democracy is that the voting public must be well-educated to make intelligent choices. Voters are vulnerable when they are easily fooled by the meticulously crafted sentences by politicians. Perhaps in a future where politicians focus on their policy instead of their opponent’s character, voters of the world can make more informed choices.